8 min read

Lion Was So Sick She Almost Died — But Then She Found Love

Behind every great lion is an even greater lioness - and such is the case for Kahn, a handsome male African lion with a distinctive mane and deep roar.

Kahn | In-Sync Exotics/Amanda Whitten

He's extremely fond of his wife, Sheila - and the two are finally living the lives they deserve after escaping their abusive pasts.

Sheila | In-Sync Exotics/Karin Saucedo

Kahn and Sheila were rescued from the same local facility by Texas' In-Sync Exotics Wildlife Rescue and Education Center, but months apart. Their former owner would rent cubs out for photo ops, and take the bigger cats to events such as birthday parties and weddings. "When they are no longer useful to him, he throws them aside and stops taking care of them," Vicky Keahey, founder of In-Sync, told The Dodo. "He's since got his license revoked."

Kahn, who was 6 years old at the time, arrived in March 2009, while Sheila came the following July. Both animals were confiscated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) after it was discovered that they were not being cared for properly.

In-Sync Exotics

"When Kahn came, the end of his tail was completely chewed off and [he] was very thin," Keahey said. Rescuers believe he chewed his own tail off out of stress or boredom. He also suffered from bone issues, likely due to malnutrition, which made walking difficult for him.

In-Sync Exotics

"He was very friendly though, so it was easy to treat him and get him comfortable with his new surroundings. Sheila, on the other hand, was in very bad shape ... Sheila was almost dead," she said.

Sheila upon first arriving at the rescue | In-Sync Exotics

The 15-month-old lioness was so weak that she lacked proper muscle coordination. She couldn't stand up on her own, let alone find the strength to lift her head in order to drink water. Furthermore, her head had a pronounced tilt.

According to Sheila's bio, the USDA warned In-Sync that, due to her poor condition, she would more than likely have to be euthanized. For four days after her arrival to the rescue, all she did was vomit and lie lifeless on the ground, but In-Sync was determined not to lose her.

In-Sync Exotics

"For two weeks, I had to go in with Sheila and hand-feed her," Keahey said. "I'd roll up meat balls and literally stuff them down her throat."

Keahey then did research to try and understand what could possibly be plaguing Sheila. As it turns out, the lioness had toxoplasmosis, an illness caused by a parasite that negatively impacts the immune system with symptoms such as loss of appetite and lethargy. Sheila also had a vitamin A deficiency. A treatment plan was immediately put into place for her.

In-Sync Exotics

Once on the verge of death, the lioness started to recover quickly.

In-Sync Exotics/Karin Saucedo

"As time went by they both healed and grew into beautiful grown lions," Keahey said of her and Kahn. "In the meanwhile, we had finished our new lion enclosure. The way it was designed would have Kahn and Sheila living next door to each other."

In-Sync Exotics

Sheila was moved into her new enclosure shortly after Kahn was, and fell for her neighbor at first sight.

In-Sync Exotics

"Sheila spent the next few months showing off for Kahn, and Kahn strutted his stuff for her," Keahey said.

Flirty Sheila giving a wink | In-Sync Exotics

Once Sheila was spayed, the In-Sync staff decided to allow the lions to "date" one another and see if they were truly a perfect match.

Kahn and Sheila's paws | In-Sync Exotics

"We did short dates every day, then the dates got longer and then the dates became unsupervised," Keahey said.

In-Sync Exotics/Lakshmi Nathan

"Then we let them spend the night together. After three months of dating, we let them get 'married,'" she said.

In-Sync Exotics/Gretta Antrican

The two now live in the same enclosure and have been happy together ever since. Keahey said that, without a doubt, Sheila is the boss.

In-Sync Exotics/Susan Adams

She loves cardboard boxes, attention and, of course, her husband.

In-Sync Exotics/Tracey Fandre

Kahn is more than content to play second fiddle to his beautiful wife - unless a neighboring male lion comes too close for his liking.

In-Sync Exotics/Tracey Fandre

"Then Kahn lets that guy know she belongs to him," Keahey said.

In-Sync Exotics/Dave Burton

Want to help In-Sync Exotics continue doing good work for big cats in need? Consider "adopting" a cat or making a donation here.

In-Sync Exotics/Dave Burton

Watch this video about Lambert, another lion who lives at In-Sync and has been obsessed with blankets ever since he was a baby: